Susan “Lily” Cromer is a pioneer in the wild, wild, west of the hemp industry. She is both an entrepreneur and an advocate who foresees the many possibilities and opportunities offered by the budding industry when hemp is grown for seed and fiber in addition to CBD. Susan operates LilyHemp, a company in Virginia designed to both process and sell hemp products, as well as educate interested consumers and producers in her community. She believes transparency is the key to forging this new path as hemp becomes part of the American economy.
After leaving her job in education to raise her four children, Susan returned to the workforce as a distributor for a plant growth enhancer, which was sold in Europe but not the United States. In 2014, the Farm Bill permitted hemp to be grown for research purposes once again in the US. Susan saw her product as a potential boost for the emerging crop. As the years went on, people began focusing more on growing hemp for CBD (a hemp/cannabis extract). As a mother, she’d seen the benefits of CBD for sick children, but was troubled by what parents were going through to obtain it. Many had to uproot their families and move to legal states to get their children the treatment they needed.
Stepping into the Unknown
Susan felt so compelled to tell others about the benefits of CBD and hemp, she leaned on her experience as an educator to teach people about it. “My goal was education and to vet products that were safe,” she says. She got involved with the Virginia Industrial Hemp Coalition and earned a place on the board, where she became active in lobbying for hemp cultivation and processing in Virginia. After the passage of the 2014 Farm Bill, Virginia allowed four research institutions to begin researching hemp.
In early 2018, before hemp and CBD produced from it were fully decriminalized federally, Susan helped lobby to expand industrial hemp grower registrations in Virginia beyond research institutions, and the rules were changed to allow farmers to apply to grow hemp. The applications for licenses were slow that year, but in 2019 after the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, there was a surge in interest, helping Susan and the Virginia Industrial Hemp Coalition move the industry forward in the state and beyond.
LilyHemp (LHVA, LLC) is a registered hemp grower, processor, and dealer in Virginia. In addition, LilyHemp is the first and currently only company to receive the prestigious Virginia’s Finest® designation for hemp food (hemp seeds, hearts, and protein). Even though CBD and hemp products have now grown in popularity and are becoming more widely used and accepted, Susan continues her mission to educate consumers through her company and advocacy.
“It’s a difficult industry to navigate,” Susan says. “Most people want to follow the rules, but we don’t know what the rules are, or they keep changing.” The lack of FDA oversight has led to concerns for both producers and consumers, but Susan knows the continued growth of the industry depends on people like her to provide well-researched information.
Making Awareness a Priority
The availability of CBD products in places like gas stations, restaurants, and grocery stores brings them more attention, but with that comes uncertainty. Most customers don’t know if what they’re buying is safe. Susan encourages her customers to do their research. She explains, “It’s not like buying a soft drink off the shelf. There’s great difference in the quality of hemp products out there. I can’t think of anything else that is openly being sold on such a wide scale, even though the FDA is saying it’s not permitted as a dietary supplement or food additive.
"While more research is essential to determine the full potential of this plant, hemp and its extracts have been used safely by humans for millennia and common sense regulations are needed to ensure top-quality products are brought to market.” Susan’s main worry is that a lapse in quality controls will lead more people into purchasing and participating in unsafe, underground production, and this will result in significant reputational harm for the industry as a whole and a degradation in consumer trust.
Susan suggests overcoming the stigma and improving credibility by creating a high standard of practices in the industry. There is a great deal of reliance on one another to communicate opportunities and discuss policies, especially in subjects like banking, track and trace, and testing. “If the goal is to help people, then the onus is on us to provide quality products that are safe and submitted for full panel, third-party testing to prove it. Anything less is going to hurt the industry.” Susan believes hemp is of great benefit for people, communities, the environment, and the economy, and she hopes her work will bring more awareness, as well as education, to those seeking different options for their health and wellness.
To learn more about Susan and LilyHemp, visit her website at www.lilyhemp.com.